by Preston Dozsa
previewed on PC
Tapping into the horror well
My favorite kind of horror is not the kind that goes bump in the night, or the kind that is littered with entrails and gore. The best horror in my opinion is Lovecraftian, or cosmic, horror. This type of horror creates a sense of dread, as the protagonists are confronted by otherworldly beings that care little for them at best and actively destroy them at worst. Zoetrope Interactive, the makers of Darkness Within, know this horror all too well, and they’re tapping into the well once again with their upcoming horror adventure Conarium.
Conarium is inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s seminal novella At the Mountains of Madness, where a group of researchers explore mysterious and horrifying ruins in Antarctica. Set some time after the events of the novella, the game focuses on a team of four researchers who attempted to use a device called a ‘Conarium’ to transcend human consciousness. Waking up alone in the base, you explore the ruins to uncover the mystery behind the ruins and what happened to your colleagues.
This is not, judging from my short demo, a game where you arm yourself with weapons and kill monsters, nor is it one where you flee from jump scares that pop up around every corner. Conarium is much slower paced, instilling an air of dread into each room and cavern you explore to create a suitably creepy atmosphere. It’s clear that the developers at Zoetrope Interactive know their Lovecraft, as the location design felt suitably eldritch and I could not help but take my time in exploring the demo area carefully looking for secrets as a result.
Exploration is done through a combination of solving environmental puzzles and finding appropriate uses for the objects that you find, both mundane and otherworldly. An ice pick I found at the start of the game enabled me to break down walls to unlock new passageways and discover secrets, while a blue crystal was later used to remove a series of poisonous vines that retreated from the crystal’s light. While most items were easy to use, using the pick in particular was more annoying, as it took a while for it to clear out a rocky path, which I subsequently became stuck in for some time due to a bug.
That exploration is well rewarded however, as there are several secrets throughout the game that encourage players to find them. These can range from mysterious visions that reveal what happened to other people who explored the ruins, to artifacts that for now only appear to provide colour to the game. The developers have stated that the game will have multiple endings depending on your actions in the game, which was further proven by the inclusion of multiple endings in their demo at PAX East 2017.
Sadly, I could not reach the best ending in my playthrough of the game. Though I was able to uncover every secret object and vision in the demo area, I was unable to solve a final puzzle that required me to memorize an important symbol. When I tried to find the symbol again, I was abruptly overpowered by a supernatural being and eaten by a freshly risen mummy lodged in a wall. Though I may have died, I was intrigued by the game’s setup. For fans of cosmic horror, we’ll have to wait and see if Conarium can continue to evoke the best of Lovecraft when it launches later this year.